You’ve trained … and trained some more. A successful marathon build up is tough. Actually running the 26.2 miles is actually the easy and fun part for me. The training is … well … tough. Running higher volume mileage and workouts can often leave me feeling drained and sometimes sluggish … you know, the way you SHOULD be feeling in the thick of that 8 to 18 week block of marathon specific training. But simply running yourself into the ground day in and day out and even week in / week out can lead to a very disappointing race experience if you don’t intentionally freshen up before toeing the line. Below are some specific guidelines regarding what can be done (or not done) during your taper phase to ensure a healthy and fresh arrival to the starting line.
1) DO run (but not too much) – yes you want to freshen up but you don’t want to be stale. A day or two off here and there is fine if you need it, but I’d rather run less each day to cut my mileage and keep my body used to running day in and day out. RUN THE DAY BEFORE THE RACE … a better day to take off might be two or three days before, but you don’t want to be stale or stressed on race day – usually occurring after a day off … go for a jog!
2) DON’T eat too much – you’re going to want to load up on some good fuel – some good ‘ol fashioned caro-loading, right? Take notice that this does NOT mean gorging on pasta and pizza three weeks out from a marathon. It simply means eating maybe a larger PROPORTION of carbs in the three days prior. It’s actually good to eat a little less overall since you’ll be running a bit less leading into the race. You might feel a bit heavier leading into the marathon as opposed to a 5k or 10k, but it should be from being fully hydrated and eating a better breakfast the morning of the race itself, not bloating up and gaining weight for 10 days beforehand.
3) DO freshen up the legs. You’ll be running less overall but you shouldn’t skip a quality day on the track and/or roads in the last few weeks either, although your last quality workouts have a different objective than the long draining intervals and tempo runs of a few weeks ago. These last-minute workouts (my last is 4 days out) is to teach your body what marathon pace feels like but also give you an opportunity to avoid stale legs and practice good mechanics through some faster intervals. My last two weeks include both type of running – marathon pace AND faster … hybrid workouts so to speak. Four days out I usually do something like 2mi @ marathon pace, 2min rest, 1mi @ half marathon pace, 1 min rest, 2 x 400m w/ 400m jogging in between – I don’t even look at my watch for the 400’s, just run at a nice controlled-quick-feeling clip. I’ll also do some 30 second pick ups in the last couple miles of my last long runs … just get the blood flowing but nothing you’ll need to recover from the next day really.
4) DO sleep. Actually easier said than done during a taper as you’ll be running less and thinking about the race – two good reasons to not fall into a nice long slumber. In any case, try to have CONSISTENCY in your rest / sleeping patterns … not 3 hours one night and 9.5 the next. Expect to sleep terribly the night before the race before heading to the start line, so the 4-5 nights prior are probably most important. I’m naturally a morning runner, but for those that aren’t, it’d be great to run in the morning (or close to race time) each day leading into race day.
5) DON’T do anything unnecessary – hiking, long-standing / walking, tackle football, cliff diving … it might be a no-brainer to most, but not others. Your friends and family might not even understand or believe it makes a difference, but since when does that matter when it comes to distance running? Does everybody understand why you want to hurt for 26+ miles? It’s not about them … or that powder-puff game … stay off your feet when you can